As the articles on “2014 – the worst year for videogames” are piling up (gotta love sensationalist headlines), I am contemplating my personal year of gaming. I usually start preparing my best games of the year-post around this time, as well as a round-up of the greatest videogame soundtracks. I have no plans to deviate from this course at present and when it comes to the actual games at least, my 2014 really wasn’t half as bad as apparently some people’s. But more on that another time.
Of course it’s gamergate that has marked 2014 as a black year for gaming and on a more personal note, it has impacted on bloggers, podcasters and people I call friends from this here MMO blogosphere. This is something I eye with much concern because if there’s something that gaming needs more of, it’s the type of diverse and welcoming community that has been established within the micro-cosmos of my blogroll. I am down when my friends are down and especially when one of them is taking their leave. However on a very personal and direct level, I am still evaluating my own feelings in regards to how gamergate has affected me. And it’s almost chilling to admit that I don’t feel particularly anything over all the ugliness that has come to light since August 2014. It’s too familiar – so unlike this tiny blogging niche that I inhabit and which is special in so many ways.
Is this really the darkest year for gaming or is it not much rather the year where some rotten dams broke and a lot of taboos were finally (and in some places aggressively) challenged and put on the spot? Did parts of the gaming community get toxic all of a sudden or were they not much rather always a hostile place for anyone not bowing to the established, unspoken norm? What gamergate stands for is that greater societal issues which are very much alive in gaming too, have finally been given a prominent voice and are receiving mainstream attention (time they caught up). That is threatening and it’s only when a status quo is truly challenged when things get ugly. But this also means that things are finally in motion.
While speakers don’t realize it anymore in everyday language, the German word for “disappointed” has a rather intriguing, literal meaning: it’s to be “un-deceived”. If we feel disappointment, it is generally because we were let down on our expectations – our hopes, dreams, illusions maybe. In any case, there was a deception of some kind involved and quite often it’s a self-created one as much as the other way around. [source]
We keep reading about or preaching how change hurts but when we find ourselves in the middle, we can’t stand the heat. Societal change of any magnitude is tough and no eye will be left dry – no, not the advocate’s either. Yet, gamergate and all the disappointment and pain it has caused is preferable to illusions we may have allowed ourselves to live in and which lulled us in treacherous passivity. There is nothing worse than a false sense of security while the years go by with nothing truly improving.
So, this year we’ve established that gaming and gamers aren’t a better society than any other – tadaa? What is there to be had other than working with and from within our very own, tiny and handpicked communities anyway?
It always gets worse before it gets better
International media have recently exploded over police violence in the US against black citizens. It’s easy to get involved and upset over cases like Eric Garner’s because for once, they are getting attention and are being widely reported on. That doesn’t change the fact that this reality has been many people’s reality always – or that black men are disproportionally more often ending up in jail or getting killed resisting an arrest compared to white men, on any given day. This isn’t news, yet right now everyone is up in arms about it. The fact that there’s been demos and in some places not-so peaceful riots, well…you don’t get to choose the face of change. If riots seem ugly to you, think of the ugly reality some people deal with every day of their lives that drives them to such extreme and dangerous (for them as well) measures. I don’t condone violence but it’s hypocritical to shake your head over Ferguson when you probably never even knew about the place beforehand and about everything that pushed so many marginalized people to a breaking point. Condemning riots is the tone argument of the privileged. It is also a tool of maintaining the establishment when ironically, violence has so many way more harmful and insidious faces.
Social change isn’t about making you feel comfortable, it’s about changing things. This brings me back to gamergate and all the ways it’s been uncomfortable but also, all the ways it heralds progress if we manage to perceive it that way. I’ve said it on a related CMP podcast before, the fact that so many people have started to talk about gaming culture or in support of women in gaming this year, is bewildering in a fantastical way. And yes, it also brings the most toxic of our non-community to the table but they have always been there, driving individuals out of this hobby. Did we believe they would welcome more and more diverse forces claiming games for themselves with open arms?
Thankfully, gamegate has brought new allies to the table too and like Liore started vetting her twitter community more closely, mine has not just seen people removed over gamergate but many join as well. Things have been moving and becoming clearer.
On an recount of my gaming background on Gameskinny a while ago, I talked about how I was driven out of a male-dominated gaming forum I had been active in for a decade. The type of treatment and in some cases harassment (not detailed in the article) I’ve received over the years cannot be compared to what some female developers and journalists targeted by the 4chan gamergate crowd went through, but there are all too familiar parallels. I know perfectly well how it feels not to be accepted as a legit member of a community you are contributing to because of your gender. I know how it feels to be scared because the usual rules of online life versus offline don’t apply in your case. This has been my reality and many other female gamers’ always, just as it’s been the reality of women professionally involved in the games industry. It’s just that nobody ever talked (much) about it and the topic certainly didn’t make it into the Colbert Report.
Only when I discovered this small community of MMO bloggers I barely dare call myself a part of, for fear of finding this fragile butterfly shatter too, did I realize there is still a place for people like me – women like me, gamers like me.
You gave me hope and hope was a change. Now change gives me hope. So no, for me personally 2014 is far from the worst year in gaming; a tough year for sure but also a year of more discussion, critical debate and alliances than ever before. And if the “community” has gotten more polarized over it in the long run, that too is part of the process that leads to inevitable change. I live in a country whose relatively consensual and pragmatic way of handling a rare form of representative democracy is in fact not grounded in consensus but on polarities so far removed and so established, that they cannot deal with each other in any other way but with compromise. If radicalization is how it’s gonna be, best get it over with.
I believe in inevitable, bumpy progress. Most of all, I hope to see everyone who is, with an open heart and mind contributing to gaming culture, back in 2015! To my fellow bloggers, podcasters, streamers, commenters and twitterers: your voice matters, more than ever. The only way this 2014 could be the worst year in gaming is if niche communities like ours went quieter and lost faith in their power to reach kindred spirits and change the face of gaming for somebody out there. Somebody like me.
A good Friday to all of you – the un-deceived who are struggling, the un-altered set to alter and all those who will find their strength renewed. Thank you for being my company.